Volume 9, Issue 1, 2012
Relativity and Relativism
On a Failed Analogy
My paper is a reply to Mr. Seungbae Park’s article, “Defence of Cultural Relativism” (Park, 2011), which holds that no culture is better than another. In response,
my paper challenges the author’s method, fairly popular amongst some postmodern thinkers, that tends to equate cultural relativism and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Firstly, I question the general rationale of establishing an analogy between relativity and relativism. In my opinion, the analogy fails to take into account
the very large generic distance between physics and ethics. Secondly, I try to demonstrate that the analogy can be construed in two opposite ways, so that, on the
one hand, it might support relativism, while on the other, it might reinforce cultural absolutism. Therefore, one would rather dispense with so equivocal an analogy. Finally, I suggest that besides cultural absolutism and cultural relativism there is also another way of assessing different cultures – I used to call it intrinsic comparison – which is based on the second options of groups and individuals rather than on their first options. The issue of how to successfully compare cultures by avoiding both absolutism and relativism was extensively dealt with by me elsewhere.